OAKLAND, CA.- Legendary ballplayer Ted Williams wanted to be known as the greatest hitter who ever lived. In El Splinter Esplendido, the Oakland Museum of California presents a rare look into Williams’s family life and his Latino lineage, and the influences that made him a great athlete. El Splinter Esplendido opens May 14, 2005, in the History Spotlight Gallery, and continues through February 26, 2006.
Ted felt fortunate to bear his father’s Anglo surname. In a single sentence in his 1969 autobiography, he acknowledged his Mexican roots and concluded, “If I had my mother’s name [Venzor], there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in Southern California.”
El Splinter Esplendido is the warm-up for the museum’s upcoming exhibition on the national pastime. On deck is Baseball As America, organized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in Cooperstown, New York, opening September 17 and runs through January 22, 2006. It is the first major exhibition to examine the relationship between the game and American culture. Baseball As America is on a four-year, 10-city nationwide tour sponsored by Ernst & Young.
The museum also opens Baseball By The Bay on September 17. The exhibition highlights ten famous moments in Bay Area baseball history and ten outstanding, unsung individuals who challenged and changed the game. The show runs through May 28, 2006.
Ted Williams, the man known as “Teddy Ballgame,” “The Kid,” and “The Splendid Splinter,” had a reputation for being intensely private about family matters. His Latino heritage remained a virtual secret to fans and sportswriters prior to publication of his autobiography. Even Lee Howard, Ted’s second wife, said “he never ever talked about it when we were married.”
Friends and relatives say Ted’s half-Latino identity wasn’t part of his life, for personal and professional reasons. David Ronquillo, a cousin, understood Ted’s need to fit in while growing up in the 1930s—“He was at a crossroads in his career.” Curator Ben Petry concurs. “If Ted had been seen as Mexican, the ‘problems’ he feared would have been a reality,” he said.
The 40 artifacts in El Splinter Esplendido are from the collection of Ted Williams (a nephew) and Bill Nowlin, a Ted Williams biographer. Included are family photos, Ted’s batting trophy and report card from Hoover High in San Diego, his mother’s Salvation Army pin, Ted’s first membership card as a professional ballplayer, a bat he used with the Minneapolis Millers, a uniform he wore with the Boston Red Sox, and his personal All-Star game yearbook signed by his teammates.
El Splinter Esplendido opens the Williams family album. In intimate and public documents, the exhibition goes beyond statistics to look at the early influences, hardships, and victories that prepared Ted Williams to step hard into a fast ball and make baseball history.
Ted Williams’s remarkable career included 18-time All-Star appearances, 521 home runs, six American League batting championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, and a magical season as the last player to bat over .400 (in 1941).